The basics of American policing, chasing and catching criminals, hasn’t changed much in the last 200 years, but technology has inspired various nuances to the tactics of “chasing” and “catching” criminals. Patrol officers see “crime fighting” as a very basic and simple process, while the managers of policing agencies complicate the process by trying to reinvent the wheel for various political and self-serving reasons. Much has been made about the perceived ability of law enforcement to prevent and reduce crime. Politicians, police chiefs and public safety directors, mistakenly believe they have the ability to drastically affect crime, while more rational experts declare that law enforcement can only affect crime trends on the margins.
CompStat (Comparative Statistics) is a relatively new way of managing police resources and tactics largely due to the increased use of computer technology. NYPD first began to employee this management method in the 1990’s and claimed amazing results in reducing overall crime in New York City. Based on NYPD’s perceived success from the crime statistic numbers they proudly displayed, numerous other agencies began adopting CompStat and moving away from the Community Policing model that so many agencies were utilizing. Was the perceived success of CompStat real or manufactured? Can crime, a problem of the heart, be reduced with better data and deployment of street officers, a problem of management?
Public Safety Director Frank Straub is an advocate of the CompStat model’s success and began installing this crime management system in Indianapolis when he was hired by Mayor Ballard. CompStat is “data driven” and holds street level officers on up to the chief accountable for the required crime reduction expectations. John A. Eterno and Eli B. Silverman co-wrote a book titled, “The Crime Numbers Game: Management by Manipulation” in 2012. This book lays waste to the CompStat model of policing and cites, “What began as a focus of reducing crime and the fear of crime has shifted to managing or manipulating the numbers…..while some numbers are important, they should not become the defining characteristic of policing.” Indy…Welcome to CompStat!
There are a number of problems that arise in agencies using the CompStat policing model: 1) CompStat can hamper the sense of interconnection between law enforcement officers. 2) It reduces officer discretion and causes officers to make arrests and write tickets for offenses they otherwise might not – due to the focus on data and work product. 3) It also limits officers’ ability to uphold half of their job responsibilities, “protecting life, liberty and property”; in essence upholding the Constitution (which doesn’t require arrest, ticket and report data). 4) It “increases tension among management and the rank-and-file while at the same time reducing morale and adding to the pressures already there due to the nature of police work.” CompStat greatly exacerbates the rift between management and the street cops. 5) It encourages and rewards “micro-management”. 6) It creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation that pushes command staff, who are under constant pressure to produce ever decreasing crime trends, to falsify crime statistics. Simply stated, CompStat may have been initiated in New York with good intentions, but the years of focusing on data has wrecked that police department’s integrity and is slowly doing the same to other agencies. Below you will find a lengthy lawsuit filed by Ofc. Schoolcraft of NYPD against his own agency. His story is detailed in “The Crime Numbers Game” and displays the overt abuse he endured at the hands of NYPD in order to keep him quiet about the manipulation of crime statistics. I highly doubt he is or will be the only whistle blower that has faced or will face the destructive results of CompStat. Indy….Welcome to CompStat!
“The Crime Numbers Game” is a revealing true story about the problem with data driven crime management models and why agencies should focus more on Community Policing models. Somewhere between CompStat and Community Policing is the proper model of policing. Eterno and Silverman make a number of recommendations to help NYPD correct their destructive policing model course. First and foremost they demand NYPD end micromanagement because “iron control from Headquarters stifles efficiency and effectiveness.” Officers should be given the opportunity to use their discretion while patrolling an area/community they intimately know, which would result with more effective/surgical arrests and enforcement of laws. Officers must be given enough manpower to properly staff districts and beats so they can engage the community and learn about specific problems, instead of running from one dispatch location to another, never acquiring usable information. “Fundamentally, good policing relies on our police officers having the courage to use their professional discretion, confront risk, and make decisions in the knowledge that their leaders will support sound decision-making even when things go wrong.”
The truth about American policing is stated so luminously by D. Bayley (1994 Police for the Future)…”The police do not prevent crime. This is one of the best kept secrets of modern life….In democratic countries all over the world, then, there is a sense of crisis about public security. And at the center of this crisis are the police, who promise to protect us but do not appear to be able to do so.” Most officers make every effort to perform and excel at their noble profession. Officers are either hampered or encouraged by their leaders; but management must realize it isn’t always just about crime reduction; there are other factors involved. Many officers hold a deep seated resentment and a feeling of alienation from what they perceive as the self-serving upper management of their agencies who are motivated by rationalistic efficiency criteria that appease politicians, the media and the courts. Indy…Welcome to CompStat. Change has come to American policing.